AFC Rushden & Diamonds secured a comfortable victory at struggling Loughborough Dynamo on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Nanpantan Sports Ground.
The visitors took the lead in the sixth minute when an inswinging Richard Bunting corner caused mass confusion amidst the home defence, and the ball eventually dropped for the returning Tom Lorraine to thrash home a shot from close range. Lorraine then hit over after advancing into the right side of the box and defender Rory Winters saw a hooked effort cleared off the line as Diamonds controlled proceedings, with the hosts only offering sporadic threat. The lead was doubled in the 33rd minute when Ben Ford reached a Nabil Shariff cross, jinked away from his marker on the byline and then squeezed a shot past Loughborough keeper Liam Sharpe inside his near post. The home side had a couple of shots fly past the far post in their best efforts of the half, and Lorraine drew a strong save by Sharpe diving to his left before the half-time interval.
The second period was a relatively quiet affair, with Diamonds comfortably holding onto their lead despite Loughborough’s hard-work to get back into the contest. Their cause wasn’t helped by full-back Sean Phillips being sent off in the 55th minute for his second yellow-card offence as he tripped Lorraine, and from then on in the result never really looked in doubt. Orosz hit a shot wide after cutting in from the right, Shariff hit a neat effort from a tight angle that clipped the crossbar and Orosz then saw a tame shot saved, but they didn’t have long to wait until they extended their lead. Sam Brown’s long-throw in the 66th minute bypassed everyone apart from Lorraine at the back post who simply smashed the ball into the back of the net. Substitute Jake Newman could have added to the advantage as he ran through on goal, but his shot was saved, whilst Loughborough threatened with a couple of blocked efforts. Shortly afterwards the full-time whistle was blown to extend Rushden’s unbeaten league run to 12 games and to mark an ideal return to domestic action.
Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made four alterations to the starting XI that had disappointingly slipped out of the FA Trophy on Tuesday evening. Brad Harris and Nabil Shariff were available again after each serving a one-match suspension in midweek and so came straight back into the team to replace Lewis Leslie and Jake Newman, with Tom Lorraine overcoming his illness to take the place of Chris Wreh. Ben Ford also began his first game for the club at the expense of the departing Nic Evangelinos.
Both sides entered the pitch and were greeted by a clear day with a slight blustery wind swirling around the stadium. The hosts were looking to overturn their home form so far this season which had seen them lose ten out of fourteen in all competitions whilst searching for a win that would move them up the table from fourth-bottom, and the Diamonds were aiming to extend their unbeaten league run to 12 games.
Referee Kenwyn Hughes signalled the starting of the game, and inside the very first minute the visitors created an opportunity. Sam Brown took a quick throw on the left into the chest of Shariff, and he laid it ideally into the path of Ford who could only drill a first-time shot over the top of the crossbar. Shariff was involved again three minutes later when he won a neat flick-on that almost ran through for striker-partner Lorraine, but Loughborough goalkeeper Liam Sharpe ran out of his goal and penalty area to slide the ball away from danger.
However, in their next attack Rushden had the lead. A corner was forced on the left, and in place of regular set-piece taker Evangelinos, Richard Bunting moved across to take the kick. His curling delivery whipped right into the middle of the six-yard box which a defender partially cleared just ahead of the goal-line, with the loose ball dropping for Winters to hit an effort into the ground and up for the keeper to punch away. A defender then failed to clear the ball, it bounced off Harris and then finally dropped perfectly for Tom Lorraine to smash home from close range.
It was the perfect start for the away side, and one they had earnt for an enterprising and energetic beginning to the match. There was still a long way to go though, and Loughborough threatened shortly after to emphasise this point. Bunting appeared to be fouled in midfield as he was hassled, but the plea for a free-kick was waved away and the hosts broke on the Diamonds defence. Tom Waumsley ran forward and attempted to play the ball to a gold-shirted home player on the left, but Rory Winters intervened with an important interception and the threat was gone.
The early stages of the match were played at a quick pace and tempo, with Diamonds in particular threatening every time they turned the home defence. This was showcased in the ninth minute when Lorraine was released through on goal with a ball over the top, and though he strode confidently into the area the ball bobbled up as he was about to shoot and so the subsequent hit flew well over the goal. Play swung back down the other end moments later, and a dangerous-looking break down the hosts’ right wing resulted in a cross that Winters again did well to clear away.
Winters was then involved again, but this time in Diamonds’ attacking third, after a quarter-of-an-hour. Bunting swung in a free-kick from the right that resulted in a weak punch away by Sharpe, and it spun sideways for Winters to hook an attempt back towards goal that needed a covering defender to hack the ball away off the line. Several mistakes were being made by the home side, especially amongst their defence, and a Kyal McNulty chip down the right saw captain Chris Gray miss the ball and allow Shariff to run in behind him. The angle was tight as he ran along the right byline and tried to force an effort past Sharpe at the near post, but the keeper got a touch on it to divert it for a corner. Ford’s resulting inswinging delivery narrowly evaded all of his teammates, and Jason Lee’s cross back into the middle was cleared away by the Loughborough defence.
Twenty minutes were almost on the clock when the visitors won another important flick-on in an attacking area. This time Lorraine was able to link the play with Taylor Orosz latching onto the ball, and he was able to stand up a cross towards the back post that Ford tried to get onto, but the referee penalised the Diamonds winger for a push on his marker Jack Oldham. The home side had barely threatened up to this moment, but they created their best opportunity of the period shortly after this Rushden pressure. A neat through-ball was played into the path of striker Waumsley in the left channel, and he ran through before hitting a low shot that Matt Finlay was able to comfortably hold down by his feet.
The game had settled down into a rather scrappy affair, and this seemed to favour the home side as they started to put a little more pressure on the Diamonds. They won a free-kick around 25 yards from goal, and midfielder Jordan Ball hit the dead-ball that the defensive wall was able to block. Loughborough kept the attack alive though by hooking the ball back into the middle, and Lee’s header clear fell ideally for a home attempt that ultimately sailed well wide of the target. The next ten minutes were fairly low-key with neither side providing any real action of note, with both sets of players quick and effective in closing down their opposing numbers when they were in possession.
The next chance occurred in the 32nd minute for Loughborough as a threatening break forward saw them have a few players forward in support, and as they made progress towards the edge of the area it took a fine defensive challenge from Harris to nick the ball away before the hosts could pose any more danger. This was made even more significant a minute later when the Diamonds doubled their advantage. Shariff received the ball on the right side of the box, and he span swiftly to work himself into a crossing position. His ensuing cross into the middle of the box bypassed everybody, but it ran for Ben Ford at the back post. He cut back inside from the byline before jinking, tricking and swerving away from a covering defender as he made his way back towards the byline and towards goal, and despite a narrow angle he was able to squeeze a shot past Sharpe at the near post.
The two returning strikers Lorraine and Shariff had linked up well to this point, and they showed further strong understanding in the next Rushden attack. Brown again took the opportunity to take a quick throw to put pressure on the hosts, and it reached Lorraine who in turn fed it inside the area for Shariff with his back to goal. Close pressure was applied to him by Loughborough defender Louis Guest, and the striker went down to the ground as a result. Referee Hughes was unmoved, however, and he signalled that a penalty would not be awarded. The hosts still presented the odd threat going forward themselves though, and four minutes before half-time Waumsley fed Danny Durkin on the right wing for the midfielder to cut in and drift a shot comfortably wide of the far post.
Shortly afterwards Lorraine and Shariff combined well again, but this time the roles were reversed as the latter fed Lorraine with his back to goal. He easily turned his marker just outside the area and thrashed in a quick shot that forced Sharpe to leap and superbly parry the ball away to his left-hand side. There remained one final chance of the period, and this occurred for the hosts as a cross in reached ex-Diamonds man Pradeep Bahrey at the back post: he fired the ball back across the area, leading to a flick-on that flashed wide of the mark.
Half Time: Loughborough Dynamo 0-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The two sets of players emerged back onto the now brightly-lit pitch, illuminated by the floodlights, with the next goal in the contest being key; if it went to the hosts, they would be right back in the match, but if the Diamonds were to get it then the result would near-enough be sealed.
Hughes got the proceedings back underway, and it was the hosts who were keen to get onto the front-foot immediately. A deep free-kick found Guest in the area, and he in turn headed it down for Jamie Clarke to hit a shot that was easily blocked. Aside from that moment the early exchanges of the half were limited in action, with midfield tussles and pressure all over the pitch being the prevalent features of this period.
The next action-of-note was an important one and arguably put an end to Loughborough’s hopes of getting any points from the game. Lorraine was released down the right wing, and as he pushed the ball past full-back Sean Phillips the defender tripped him on the edge of the box. After being cautioned in the first half there was always a risk he would be booked again, and although there was first some pushing and shoving between some players of both sides and then consultation between the referee and his assistant, the yellow and then red card was issued to reduce the hosts to ten men.
Straight away Rushden tried to capitalise on the man advantage they now had, and two minutes after the dismissal Orosz was fed down the right flank. He did well to drive inside away from his marker, but his resulting shot flew wide of the far post despite a red-shirt being close to diverting the flashed effort goalwards. Loughborough responded doggedly though, and after a good cross into the box from the left was powerfully headed away by Winters, a cross from the other wing fell ideally for Waumsley to latch onto but his shot-on-the-turn went comfortably over Finlay’s goal.
Chances at goal were sporadic in the first twenty minutes of the half though, with Loughborough working hard to put pressure on the Diamonds defence whilst looking susceptible to counter-attacks as gaps begin to open up for the away side to exploit. They almost did so in the 67th minute when a quick throw on the right found Lorraine, and he fed Shariff who moved into space and hit a left-footed shot from a tight angle that clipped the crossbar and bounced away for the home side to clear. Ford then found time in midfield to run forward and pick a pass to Orosz on the right, but the winger’s eventual effort after running forward was tame and easy for the goalkeeper to collect.
That proved to be Ford’s last action as he was substituted shortly afterwards to be replaced by the returning Lewis Wilson, and less than two minutes following that first alteration another one was made as Jake Newman took to the field in place of Orosz. The Diamonds number 9 had gone down moments before, and after treatment by the physio he was able to hobble off the pitch.
Rushden had won a throw-in on the left before the second change took place, and after Newman jogged onto the pitch the referee blew for play to resume again. Brown wound up the throw before pitching it into the heart of the penalty area, and though a melee of players leaping for the first header all missed it, it ran through for Tom Lorraine to easily tap into the empty net at the back post.
That put the game beyond any real doubt for the Diamonds, though both teams still created chances in the rest of the match. Lorraine was operating from the right now, with Wilson on the left of midfield, and it was he who had a chance a minute after the third Rushden goal. A loose ball dropped for him in the left-side of the box, but he dragged his shot and it dribbled wide of the near post.
Loughborough were still battling gamely despite their one-man and three-goal disadvantage, and it required a crucial block from Harris to charge down a goalbound attempt from the edge of the home box. Moments later McNulty had time and space to pick out a cross from the right wing, and although he overhit it, it appeared that it may drop over Sharpe and into the net, but instead it dropped behind the goal. Manager Peaks then made his third and final change for the Diamonds as Lewis Leslie entered the fray at the expense of the tireless Bunting
With the visitors having failed to keep a clean sheet away from home in the league so far this season, it was clear that they wanted to change that record as the game ticked past the 80th minute mark. This was typified by Winters, who defended stoutly throughout the contest, who cleared away a shot from Waumsley before it could potentially test Finlay, and then the Diamonds sprung straight onto the counter-attack. Newman and Shariff, the new strike-partnership after the substitutions, linked up extremely well down the right wing, with the former finding the latter before the compliment was returned. Newman now found himself with only Sharpe to beat from around 12 yards out, but his shot was straight at the keeper and it was kicked away from danger.
Newman threatened again shortly before the end of the regulation 90 minutes as he escaped down the left channel and advanced into the box, with his low ball in being turned just wide of the near post by a Loughborough defender. The resulting corner was flicked on at the near post, but no red-shirt could get onto it and it ran across goal.
Three minutes of added-on time were signalled, and in the second of these McNulty was penalised for a handball right on the edge of his own box. A four-man wall was swiftly assembled, but the subsequent kick almost summed up the home side’s game and season so far as it smacked into the defensive wall and was easily cleared upfield. Shortly afterwards the final whistle was signalled to confirm Diamonds’ victory, to confirm their first away league clean sheet of the campaign and to also confirm the extension of their unbeaten league run to 12 games.
Full Time: Loughborough Dynamo 0-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This represented a relatively straightforward victory for the Diamonds after their early goal and after the second half dismissal of a home defender, and though Loughborough never gave in and carried on giving their all to the very end, Rushden ran out comfortable winners in the end. Shariff and Lorraine linked up well throughout, Harris returned to deliver a calm and composed performance in the middle and Winters especially defended strongly when it was required of him. They now move up to sixth in the Northern Premier League First Division South table, though league action is put on the back-burner for now as they first entertain higher-league Corby Town in the Integro League Cup First Round on Tuesday evening (19:45pm kick-off).
Diamonds Men of the Match: Brad Harris and Tom Lorraine
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Liam Sharpe
2. Jack Oldham
3. Sean Phillips
4. Louis Guest
5. Chris Gray (C)
6. Jordan Ball
7. Danny Durkin
8. Ben Wallace
9. Tom Waumsley
10. Jamie Clarke
11. Pradeep Bahrey
12. Conor Brown-Wingfield (for Clarke 84)
13. Charlie Hornby
14. Lavell White (for Wallace 66)
15. Chris Freestone
17. Matt Finlay
2. Richard Bunting (C)
3. Sam Brown
4. Rory Winters
5. Jason Lee
6. Brad Harris
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Kyal McNulty
9. Taylor Orosz
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Ben Ford
12. Joe Curtis
13. Ben Heath
14. Jake Newman (for Orosz 72)
15. Lewis Wilson (for Ford 70)
16. Lewis Leslie (for Bunting 78)
Goals: Lorraine (6, 73), Ford (33)
Yellow Cards: Phillips (27, 55)
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: Phillips (55)
Red Cards: None
Referee: Kenwyn Hughes
Assistants: Daniel Smith, Ibrahim Arsali
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